how do i cook a beef tenderloin in the oven

SLATHER: Create a simple garlic and herb butter and slather it all over the seared beef. Insert your probe thermometer. ROAST: Cook the beef tenderloin at 425 degrees F. until the desired internal temperature is reached. This will only take about 20 to 25 minutes!

Now, because this is The Pioneer Woman Cooks! and NOT Cooking Light!, put several tablespoons of butter all over the meat. Itll gradually melt as the beef cooks and youll thank me when youre old and gray and sitting around remembering that delicious beef tenderloin that Pioneer Lady Gal forced you to make. Trust me.

After I put the meat into the pan, I throw a couple of tablespoons of butter into the skillet, to give it a nice little butter injection before going in the oven. (If Id heated the butter with the olive oil, the house would now be filled with black smoke, which I normally wouldn’t mind but I wanted to behave myself for the purposes of this post.)

Now its Marlboro Mans turn. These are his hands. Sometimes, I like for him to take over halfway through, because Im flighty and get bored very easily, which is why I have seventeen unfinished needlepoint projects in the closet of my childhood home. I always liked doing the colorful designs, but when it came time for the plain background, I always cut and ran.

IMPORTANT (and cheap) KITCHEN TOOL: The Meat Thermometer. You can get one at any grocery store and when it comes to beef tenderloin, you dont want to be without it. See, tenderloin is an expensive cut of beef, and if you overcook it, its all over. Youll hate yourself and have to move to another state. A meat thermometer is the only way to scientifically ensure that you wont throw $60 down the drain.

Now, I like to prepare my tenderloin “au poivre” or with a dang lot of pepper. I like to use whatever tri-colored peppercorns I can find. They’re widely available in grocery stores these days, or you can find an old jar from a Williams Sonoma gift basket your punk kid sister gave you eight years ago in the back of your spice cabinet like I did.

A Rare Case: What’s the Best Degree of Doneness for Beef Tenderloin?

I used to be one of those “wave the steak in the direction of the fire and serve it to me” types. The rarer, the better. But when I actually started thinking critically about what was in my mouth, rather than letting whatever minor sense of machismo I had get the better of me, I realized that rarer does not always equal better, and Im willing to bet that anybody who currently thinks so could be convinced otherwise.

These days, I firmly believe that when youre cooking red meat, the degree of doneness to which you cook it should be directly related to its fat content. Rich, fatty cuts, like prime-grade prime rib, are better cooked to at least medium-rare, and often even up to medium—hot enough that the plentiful intramuscular fat can start to soften, spreading its flavor and its lubrication over your mouth.*

*In fact, in blindfolded taste tests I conducted, even avowed rare-meat-eaters more often than not picked the medium-rare prime rib or the medium prime rib over the rare as the best-tasting. This also may explain why the French, with their very lean beef, tend to prefer their meat cooked very rare, while Americans, with their extra-fatty meat, veer toward medium. Nobody can explain why the Brits cook their lean beef beyond well-done.

A lean tenderloin, on the other hand, has no intramuscular fat, so go beyond medium-rare at all and youre just drying it out. For tenderloin, edge-to-edge pink, with perhaps even a spot of translucent rare meat in the very center, is the way to go. And, of course, we still want a really nice dark crust on the exterior for flavor and texture.

Making the Cut: Choosing the Perfect Beef Tenderloin

Before we get to the oven, though, we need to first figure out what cut of meat were working with. A full tenderloin is a big chunk of meat, about four to five pounds. Because a whole tenderloin has an uneven shape, with a thin, tapered tail and a fat bulb on the other end, youll need to fold that thinner end back and tie it into place to get it to cook evenly.

how do i cook a beef tenderloin in the oven

This is fine if youve got a large party of eight to 12 to feed, but for a smaller group of four to six, youll want to use a center-cut tenderloin, also known as a chateaubriand.

how do i cook a beef tenderloin in the oven

This is the center section of the tenderloin, and it has a smooth, even, cylindrical shape that makes cooking it much simpler. (If you want to learn how to save some money by trimming a tenderloin yourself, check out our guide here.)

how do i cook a beef tenderloin in the oven

Cooking it on its own can cause it to sag and turn misshapen as it cooks, so I always like to truss a tenderloin by tying it up at even intervals. Learning how to tie butchers knots makes this very easy, though regular old square knots will work as well.

So how do you get there? Well, traditional recipes for tenderloin (and most steaks and roasts) call for first searing the meat at a high temperature, then finishing it off at a relatively low temperature. By this stage, we all know that the whole “sealing in the juices” thing is nothing more than a myth with no actual basis in reality, right? So, while the standard hot-then-cool method works okay, it actually works better if you do the process in reverse.

Its a thing called the reverse sear, a technique I developed while I was working at Cooks Illustrated (and if youve already heard me talk about it a million times, you may want to skip ahead a bit). These days, I use it for everything from prime rib to pan-seared steaks to pork chops—any time I want perfectly evenly cooked meat and a great crust.

how do i cook a beef tenderloin in the oven

When you start the process by placing the raw meat on a rack in a low-temperature oven (in this case, I went with 225°F—the lowest temperature my oven could reliably hold) and slow-roasting it until the center hits just a few degrees below your desired final serving temperature (a serving temperature of 125°F for rare or 130°F for medium-rare is what I shoot for on an instant-read thermometer), you end up with a piece of meat that has a very small temperature gradient. The meat will be almost perfectly cooked from edge to edge.

how do i cook a beef tenderloin in the oven

Low-and-slow cooking also gives you a larger window of time between that point at which the meat is perfectly cooked and the point when its overcooked.

Once the meat is done, all youve got to do is put a sear on it. With a steak, Ill generally do that in a large skillet on the stovetop. If your tenderloin is small enough, you can do it the same way, basting it with butter, shallots, and thyme for extra flavor and richness. The added milk proteins in butter also help it to brown faster than oil does.

But what if its too large to fit in a skillet, or you prefer to use the oven?

At first, I thought I could treat a tenderloin exactly how I treat my prime rib—just toss it in a 500°F (260°C) oven for a few minutes to sear the exterior. I tried it and ended up with barely browned meat and a big, fat layer of overcooked meat around the outer edges.

The problem, of course, is that fat content again. A prime rib has a nice thick layer of fat on its exterior that can help it brown faster and more evenly. It also cooks more slowly due to this insulation, so even with a 10-minute stay in a 500°F oven, you get barely any gray, overcooked meat under the surface. With a lean tenderloin, on the other hand, 10 minutes in a 500°F oven leads to a chunk of meat thats cooked beyond medium, almost all the way to the center!

So my goal was to figure out ways to speed up the browning process so that the tenderloin wouldnt have time to overcook. It took a two-pronged approach to get there.

SLATHER: Create a simple garlic and herb butter and slather it all over the seared beef. Insert your probe thermometer. ROAST: Cook the beef tenderloin at 425 degrees F. until the desired internal temperature is reached. This will only take about 20 to 25 minutes!

FAQ

What temperature should a beef tenderloin be cooked at?

Roast until a meat thermometer registers 130°F (about 25–30 minutes) for medium-rare doneness or 140°F for medium doneness (about 30–35 minutes).

Which cooking method is best for beef tenderloin?

The easiest way is to pop the beef tenderloin in the oven and roast it at high heat. However, some recipes call for initially roasting the beef at a low oven temperature, then turning up the oven temperature to help the roast brown as it finishes.

Should beef tenderloin be cooked covered or uncovered?

Yes, beef tenderloin can be covered when roasting to help keep it moist and prevent it from drying out. You can cover it with aluminum foil for the first part of the roasting process and then remove the foil to allow the exterior to brown and develop a crust. This can help ensure a juicy and flavorful result.

Is beef tenderloin the same as filet mignon?

It’s common to wonder, “Is beef tenderloin the same as filet mignon?” The answer is no, they are two different cuts of beef. However, filet mignon comes from the beef tenderloin, cut from the very end and most tender area of the tenderloin.

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